Sunday, September 02, 2007


On July 7, 2007 I donated my eightieth pint of blood.

I first started donating back in 1992. There was a blood drive going on in Nanticoke, at the Armory downtown. I was still kicking around trying to find myself a job, hoping that the one I had applied for with a Compact Disc manufacturer thirty-five miles away might work out, and giving blood seemed like a good thing to do while I was waiting. Besides, I had recently picked up a book on historical fads, and one of the more interesting ones was bloodletting - attempting to increase the lifespan of men to match that of women by imitating the periodic blood loss experienced by most females, and I thought it would be amusing to see if there was any value in it. Better health through blood loss! Unlike the bloodletting fads of old, my blood donations would actually get to help some people.

Donors were laid out on hard, flat cots. The donation lasted about an hour and left me with a huge bruise on my arm. I wasn't sure I would do it again.

I think I gave blood one more time, in the basement of a local Catholic school, before I started making arrangements for semi-regular donations at the local Red Cross Donor Center. Donations became a sort of a game: how many donations could I squeeze into a single year? (You can give blood every eight weeks, so if you time donations right you can actually give seven times a year, though you would only be able to give six times the following year.)

I haven't always succeeded. At least one donation went awry, with the needle missing my vein (or passing through it entirely), resulting in an incomplete pint that could not be used and a huge bruise under my skin. Other times I have been deferred for Iron levels that were too low. Sometimes I couldn't donate because of scheduling conflicts, or because I was out of the country when the date rolled around.

More people need to donate. For many people, the first and last times they donated was in the days following September 11, 2001. First, because many people had an automatic response to want to do something meaningful in response to the attacks, and donating blood seemed like the most appropriate and helpful thing; last, because many people became enraged when they discovered that their donations had been discarded after a certain period of time, and vowed never to donate again. (Blood and blood products have a finite shelf life, and the glut of donations in response to an incident that really did not call for blood donations meant that, briefly, much more blood and blood products were available than could be used before their shelf life expired.)

Over the last fifteen years I have donated eighty pints of blood. That's ten gallons of the red stuff, as the pin I recently received will attest. On Wednesday, if my Iron levels are sufficient, I will begin working on the next ten. I would be very happy if you decided to start working on your ten gallon pin.


dee said...

Thanks to pharesis donations back in the 80's, I was able to get my ten gallon pin back then (they counted the three hour procedure for 3 units, and you could give every two weeks). But also thanks to pharesis donations, I can no longer donate a complete unit because my veins have been shot. Having served on several committees with the Red Cross, I have mixed feelings about them. I think the local chapters do wonderful work, but the national organization should be investigated for fraud. They were almost as good as Republicans in using 9/11 for their own purposes, and based on my experiences with them back in the 80's and 90's I long ago concluded that I would never donate to them again.

tiffany said...

the vampires! they are after me!
they are stalking me, because my type-O blood is apparently quite delicious!

anyway, i do donate several times a year...not eight...but at least three.

i wanted to donate after 9/11, too. the sad thing is, there weren't many people who needed blood.
shitty, but true.

Anonymous said...

Now that I work in the Blood Bank department of the local hospital, I have some real ambivalent feelings about blood donation. Partly for the reason dee mentioned; in fact our facility has switched from getting blood from ARC (American Red Cross) to the Central PA Blood Bank. Handling blood donations has become big business for ARC, and they manage to entice people to actually DONATE the product they then sell to hospitals for quite a bit of money. I'm sure there is some profit involved; all that expense probably doesn't just cover the testing & processing of the units. It just seems that they are taking advantage of good-hearted people's altruistic tendencies.

My bigger ethical dilemma arises from seeing who this blood goes to. We've all been sold the heart-warming story of saving accident victims or young pregnant mothers or some child with cancer. I don't want to imply that none of these scenarios ever occur. But what I see at our hospital is that the vast majority of our blood seems to go to very elderly patients, many living (existing?) in nursing homes. It's one of those situations where I now say "I'd never want to get blood donations every-other week just to prolong my old age"; of course I'd probably see things differently if it were my DADDY needing the transfusions, or a loved one with cancer, or myself (85 may not look so old when I'm 79!).

D.B. Echo said...

When my grandmother was still alive, we often joked about the fact that we both had the same blood type, so she might someday et some of my blood. I wouldn't mind keeping someone else's grandmother or grandfather alive for a few more weeks with my blood.